As the air travel industry weathers the ongoing strain of the pandemic, with both pleasure and business travel beginning to pick up in early November only to be hammered again by the Omicron variant, the industry’s outsized climate impact is emerging as a concern for airlines and some travellers.
Writing as the COP 26 climate summit began in Glasgow in early November, CBC News observed that “the return to busier skies is fuelling concern among environmentalists about the increase in fossil fuel emissions from a revitalized aviation sector.”
That meant the issue of aviation emissions was “top-of-mind for both environmentalists and industry decision-makers” at the COP.
Ultimately, COP 26 delivered only a mixed effort to rein in those emissions. As reported in a post-COP briefing by the Singapore-based law firm, Stephenson Harwood, 23 countries responsible for about 40% of global aviation emissions did sign on to the newly-minted International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition (ICAC) whose signature pledge was to reduce emissions line with a 1.5°C climate target. But five of the top 10 aviation emitters—Australia, China, Germany, India, and the United Arab Emirates—declined to sign on to the coalition.
Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Chair Tzeporah Berman described a real crisis of conscience about whether she should fly to Glasgow in the lead-up to COP26. Ultimately, she decided to travel, she told CBC: “I think it’s really important that we have representatives of civil society there, that we watchdog the process, that we encourage them to be as ambitious as possible. And then we tell the world what’s happening inside those rooms.”
But for the Canadian airline industry, CBC reports, “there are no quick fixes to the emissions from aircraft themselves,” with remedies like hydrogen-fuelled fleets still many years away.
Operational emissions offer more immediate promise, however. Describing the emissions reduction plan released by Vancouver International Airport (YVR) a month before the COP, YVR CEO Tamara Vrooman said the new plan to hit net-zero by 2030 “is 20 years ahead of what we previously were planning, and is certainly the boldest commitment of any airport in North America.”
The flight path to this commitment will include “minimizing waste in the terminals, reducing fresh water use, energy conservation, investing in renewable energies, replacing fossil fuels where possible through things like electrification, and buying carbon offsets,” CBC writes.
Pointing out that a flight passenger’s journey actually begins at home, Vrooman also stressed the need to facilitate non-fossil means of getting to the airport in the first place, like electrified transit.